Like many of Marvel’s most famous characters, Loki sprung from the brains of Jack Kirby, Stan Lee, and — in this case — Lee’s brother, Larry Lieber. Of course, the villain turned anti-hero turned supervillain turned (anti-)hero is not an original creation. Just like his half-brother Thor, Kirby and co. plucked him from the icy fjords of Norse mythology, where he had long been the trickster god that we know and love.
But this Loki was the adopted brother of Thor and son of Odin, a significant change that has become a key part of what makes Loki such a timeless comics character, and so much fun to both read and watch. Who doesn’t occasionally want to root for the non-blonde bombshell, to cheer for the least favorite son?
Loki’s arrival also set up a long running streak of emotionally driven humanity revolving around the two godlike brothers and their place in the Marvel Universe — but he wouldn’t be much of a trickster god if his stories were all about high emotions. He’s been trapped in an anthill by Ant-Man and turned his long-suffering brother into a frog. And those are some of his best stories, too.
Jack Kirby, Stan Lee, Dick Ayers, Stan Goldberg, and Sam Rosen
You can’t have the Avengers without Loki. Literally. In the first issue of the flagship Marvel team series, the Avengers assemble to fight none other than the horned terror himself. Kind of.
This wonderfully out there issue sees Loki frame the Hulk for a train crash, and the heroes of the world assemble against the beast sometimes known as Bruce Banner. Eventually his plan is revealed and the heroes turn on their true foe, but not before we see Hulk as an elephant-juggling clown and multiple Lokis beating up Thor.
This issue is Kirby at his greatest. Beautiful, often blunt linework depicting the majestic Rainbow Bridge of Asgard. The powerful profile of Loki in one of the strongest opening pages of the Silver Age. Kirby also has fun with strange manifestations of Loki’s abilities, like a delightful recurring motif of his disembodied eyes spying on the heroes.
It might be decades old, but this issue establishes the duality of Loki that is so key to his modern adaptations: He is powerful enough to be a threat, and clever enough to be fun.
Walter Simonson, Christie Scheele, Paul Becton, and John Workman
Not every great Loki story leans into his innate weirdness, but this one certainly does — and is all the better for it. This completely wild three issue arc from legendary Thor creator Walt Simonson is a great example of his brilliance.
It begins as so many Loki stories do: with a prank-filled plan to best his brother. Loki simply turns Thor into a frog, and heads off to taking over Asgard. But as with most of Loki’s plans, it goes awry, leaving Frog Thor living in a lovely yet dangerous animal-scale world and introducing an imposter in place of the true heir to Asgard.
Loki is more an antagonist than a secondary character in this tale, but Frog Thor is a great microcosm of his conflict with his brother. At his heart, Loki is more interested in annoying Thor than getting the throne, so when his plan becomes a true threat to Asgard, he begins to rethink. Aside from the engrossing and utterly unique story, Simonson is at his best here, as he mixes Kirby-esque Asgardian intrigue with a Redwall-style nature tale that comes together in a stunningly silly finale.
Rob Rodi, Esad Ribic, Cory Petit, and Randy Gentile
Esad Ribic’s breathtaking style is a perfect fit for this classical story of Loki and Thor, told from the perspective of the God of Mischief. Alongside writer Rob Rodi, Ribic creates an epic world stuffed with lore and myth and dense with emotion and gravitas all in a four-issue miniseries. With Loki taking the Throne of Asgard by force, Blood Brothers offers up an intense exploration of his connection with Thor and the Asgardian royal family.
While Loki tries to control his newly gained realm, he must reckon both with Hela and his own love for his brother when she demands Thor’s soul. Like most of the best Loki stories, this is one that’s very concerned with the relationship between the heirs of Asgard. If you’ve always longed to see the myth through the eyes of another, this is a great starting point to understand Loki and his relationship with the gods who raised him.
Kieron Gillen, Doug Braithwaite, Ulises Arreola, and Clayton Cowles
I’m not here to definitively say that Kid Loki is the best Loki ... but you know, maybe he is. Kieron Gillen and co. make a great argument for the younger iteration as Thor returns his newly reincarnated younger brother to Asgard and the pair must find a new path in the wake of the original Loki’s heinous acts. This epic tale begins when Thor follows his love for the brother he misses so dearly to a new version of him. The fact that this new version is a sulky teen with a Stark phone just happens to make this story even better.
Without spoiling too many of its secrets, this is a tale that throws Loki into the unenviable position of savior, giving the reader plenty to chew on in regards to whether or not we can trust our young protagonist. Gillen understands the dynamic duality of Loki that makes the character so engaging, while Braithwaite, Arreola, and Cowles craft a visual landscape that always feels like you’re delving into a forgotten Norse fable.
The awesome events of this series also set up our next pick — a timely read for anyone invested in the current MCU.
Kieron Gillen, Jamie McKelvie, Mike Norton, Matt Wilson, and Clayton Cowles
Loki’s biggest hit wasn’t putting together the Avengers — it was putting together the Young Avengers. Young Avengers stands as one of the most fun Marvel Comics of the last decade, and much of that is down to Kid Loki and his definitely-not-maniacal plans.
McKelvie showcases an eye for superhero storytelling that has made him a star at Marvel, flexing a talent for layouts that would see full fruition in The Wicked + The Divine. Gillen gives Loki a magnificent voice that makes him equally frustrating and entertaining.
There’s so much to love about this story and so many characters to lose yourself in, but at its center is the mystery of Loki. Can he be trusted? Do we even want him to be? Isn’t the joy of the character just how little we know what to expect from him? The infinitely re-readable Young Avengers is a high point in Loki’s comic book career.
Al Ewing, Lee Garbett, Nolan Woodard, and Clayton Cowles
The genius of Loki: Agent of Asgard is that it places Young Loki into a caper of the week setup, making for a super fun series.
With his older self thought to be dead (and trapped that way, because in the Marvel Universe you really have to make sure), Young Loki is off doing his thing. That is, until he’s called upon by the All-Mother to take on a new role as an Agent of Asgard. There’s even something in it for him: For each mystery Loki solves or problem he fixes, Asgard will erase one of his previous sins.
Garbett and Woodward bring a fun and lightness to the art that perfectly matches the awesome tone of Ewing’s storytelling. If the heaviness of Norse law and Frank Frazetta-inspired art puts you off diving into the world of Loki, then Agent of Asgard is a great middle ground. It feels contemporary, but never strays from the magic and mythos that makes the character so timeless. Plus, we get naked Loki in the shower singing “The Wizard and I” from Wicked in the first issue. What more could you want?
Christopher Hastings, Langdon Foss, Paul McCaffrey, Chris Chuckry, and Rachelle Rosenberg
If you like a little political satire with your superheroes, then this miniseries is the perfect fit. Taking on the danger of demagogues through the lens of Loki, we join the Son of Laufey as he embarks on a quest to become the President of the United States. Langdon Foss brings his delightfully unique aesthetic to the tale, which, along with Hastings’ more grounded story makes it feel far more like an Image book than something that would usually be published by Marvel.
While the message of Vote Loki might seem simple at first, this is an interesting and layered character study that never relies on easy answers or an on-the-nose analogy. This series will also clearly be an influence on the upcoming Loki show, as we saw him seemingly running for President in the first trailer. So if you want to get an idea of what his motivations and machinations might be when he heads to Disney+, it’s a great time to pick this one up.